Addressing an issue near and very dear to their hearts, NYU Abu Dhabi junior Clive Miranda and freshman Mohamed Amine Belarbi recently participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) 2013, held earlier this month at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Their proposal was not only keenly heard by a distinguished audience of leading professionals, renowned global figures, and future leaders, but also awarded a Resolution Fellowship in The Resolution Project's Social Venture Challenge — run in conjunction with CGIU — which was designed to support student-launched social ventures that are sustainable and have measurable impact.
One of 17 winning commitments, the duo's proposal addresses the current Syrian refugee crisis, which resonates strongly with Miranda and Belarbi due to their upbringing in the MENA region — Miranda in Kuwait and Belarbi in Morocco. "We have many friends and loved ones living in and around the areas of conflict," Miranda said.
Named Social Enterprise Response for Refugee Crisis Housing (or SERRCH), the venture aims to provide refugees with inexpensive prefabricated housing units (that will be of better quality than the tents currently used) based on a micro-financing system as well as liberate refugees from fiscal restrictions so that they can use their money to invest in profit-generating activities, thereby lessening their dependency on humanitarian aid. As Miranda explained, "The refugee tally has reached over the one million mark and humanitarian organizations are struggling to contain the issues of food provisioning and disease. We have found through research that the primary issue refugees face is that of housing — from which all other problems stem."
The competition, which was open only to undergraduate students, required that Miranda and Belarbi propose a solution to a pressing global social issue. "We wanted our venture to address a world issue that needed immediate attention and was as humanist as one can get," Miranda said. Additionally, with Belarbi's intent to become a businessman-cum-politician and Miranda's goal to become a doctor, their venture allowed them to "combine our talents of thinking with our brains and hearts for the betterment of a population that, we feel, deserves all the help they can get," he continued.
SERRCH was assessed on a range of criteria, including social impact and innovation, viability, and strategic planning. Chosen from hundreds of submitted commitments, the venture won Miranda and Belarbi USD 9,000 in seed funding to launch the venture, ongoing mentorship, robust support, and access to the Resolution's network. In addition, talks with fellow CGIU participants — more than 1,000 students who generated upwards of 630 commitments to action — and a number of attending organizations were extremely promising and productive. As Miranda said, the fruitful collaboration with fellow CGIU attendees has allowed him and Belarbi to include new services to provide to the Syrian refugees. "We have secured considerable amounts of medical supplies to go with our housing unit deliveries," he explained, "as well as a score of volunteers who are willing to assist by leading classes and supervising activities for the residents of the refugee camps."
The CGIU was not only, as Belarbi said, a platform to showcase SERRCH, but also an important learning experience, during which he and Miranda had the opportunity to "interact on intimate levels with world pioneers in the domains of business, politics, and social services." In addition to learning through a variety of workshops, panel discussions, and skill sessions, the students were moved by a long list of inspirational figures that included former US President Bill Clinton; Muhammad Yunus, chairman of the Yunus Centre; Twitter Co-founder Jack Dorsey; Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report; and Chelsea Clinton, a Clinton Foundation board member who announced Miranda and Belarbi's win. "They made sure that we were treated as equals and encouraged us not to be daunted by the startling profiles on the panels, but instead to believe staunchly that we can make it to where they are now," Belarbi said. "That was the moment I enjoyed the most — after Stephen Colbert's appearance — because I finally felt that I was in the right place at the right time."
The CGIU proved to be a transformative experience for both Miranda and Belarbi. "The future looks very bright, both for us and for millions of others," Miranda said. "We are driven more now than ever before, as it is our moral imperative not to lay idle and wait for events to unfold, but to use the blessing of the privileged position we find ourselves in to help those who are not so fortunate." Belarbi echoed that sentiment. "Now that I am back in Abu Dhabi, I can say that I brought with me a fierce conviction that no matter what it takes, I will work toward honoring the pledge I made at the CGIU: That I will work hard to make a lasting impact on this world and leave a memorable legacy for the next generations."